MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Neal Brown is calling his shot.
“We’re going to be great,” Brown said. “It’s not an ‘if’ to me. It’s a matter of when.”
At the moment, it seems like a bit of a bold take. Four practices in, the Mountaineers are not there yet. But Brown sees the building blocks coming into place.
“I like our attitude. I think our effort’s good. If we can do a good job of coaching technique and putting our guys in place to be successful, then I feel like it’s not if, it’s just when,” Brown said. “We weren’t great today. I’m sure when that’s gonna be. But I have full faith in our staff and our team that at some point we’re going to be great. I just can’t tell you when.”
Brown revealed that West Virginia was better than he initially figured after its first padded practice on Saturday.
“We did not practice very well on Saturday, but after watching the film I thought our effort was good,” Brown said. “As coaches, I think we got a little ahead of ourselves with the install. We probably put too much of the schematic phase in and it caused our guys to play a little slow and a little sloppy. [Tuesday] was much better.”
Some players are ahead of the curve.
“[Defensive lineman] Darius Stills made several plays in the backfield,” Brown said of Tuesday’s practice. “[Linebacker] Zach Sandwisch made did some good things up front. [LInebacker] Dylan Tonkery has been really consistent. I don’t know if I can say a better [compliment] than consistent.
“[Safety] Kenny Robinson did a good job of communicating defensively. Offensively, [running back] Martell Pettaway bounced back. He wasn’t himself on Saturday. [Tight end] Jovani Haskins made some plays. And all three quarterbacks were significantly better.”
Receivers building experience
It’s no mystery that replacing wide receivers Gary Jennings and David Sills is one of the biggest challenges facing the Mountaineers this offseason. Though junior T.J. Simmons is a logical pick to step up as a frontline receiver, multiple younger players are also attempting to show that they can contribute.
“Bryce Wheaton has done some things, but he looks like a redshirt freshman at times. He’s got to grow,” Brown said. “Randy Fields, I’ve been really pleased with him. He’s a smart football player we’ve moved around a bunch. Sam James has shown flashes. Isaiah Esdale had a good day on Saturday.”
Tevin Bush, who averaged 14.9 yards per catch on his 14 receptions last year, is making a strong case to contribute more this fall.
“He’s a guy that I’ve been impressed with,” Brown said. “He’s made a ton of big plays. He had a couple long touchdowns today.”
Brown notably didn’t mention senior Marcus Simms until prompted, but said that Simms has “been limited a little bit with an injury.”
All eyes on Alston
One of the newest Mountaineers is one of the hardest to miss on the practice field. At 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds without much evidence of body fat, defensive end Taijh Alston is a formidable presence.
Alston, a transfer from Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College who enrolled at WVU in January, is practicing well enough to get reps with the No. 1 defensive unit.
Alston has put on 25 pounds since last season.
“He’s got some ball get-off. He’s strong,” Brown said. “He’s playing a bit heavier, which he’s getting used to. But he’s come in and worked. Mike Joseph and his staff have been really impressed with him in strength and conditioning.”
Lucy need not apply
Even if he ends up losing the quarterback battle to Austin Kendall, Jack Allison stands a strong chance of getting on the field this season.
Early on, Allison is distinguishing himself in the slightly less prestigious holder derby.
Brown prefers having quarterbacks do his holding, and Kendall is out of the race due to his previous knee injury.
“Jack has done a nice job,” Brown said. “It helps you in the fake. It slows down the rush when a quarterback is holding. Plus, when you talk about a guy who handles the ball, you feel good on clutch kicks when you’ve got a quarterback back there when it’s down tight.”